Taking back control

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We live in an age of irresponsibility. Reckless politicians, lacking suf­ficient evidence, led us into prolonged and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regulators, economists and policy-makers passed up responsibility (in the 1960s and 70s) for the management of financial markets. Instead, something akin to Dante’s Sorcerer – the “invisible hand” – was deemed sufficiently responsible. Once the Great Financial Crisis broke, political and technocratic elites (including economists) denied responsibility and blamed the public: too many “sub-primers” wanted something for nothing. They had succumbed to NatWest Bank’s siren call to “take the waiting out of wanting”. Private bankers lent irresponsibly to Greece, knowing that politicians and taxpayers would bail them out in the event of default. Councillors in Kensington and Chelsea, along with their officials and agents, abdicated responsibility for the lives of tower block residents. And so on....

In the latest edition of the Times Literary Supplement I review a range of new books that converge around the theme of responsibility.  My theme of generalized irresponsibility was challenged by Harvard's Yaschca Mounk, who in his book The Age of Responsibility argues that  "the notion of personal responsibility has become central to our moral vocabulary, to philosophical debates about distributive justice, to our political rhetoric, and to our actual public policies”.  Also reviewed are John Nickson's book Our Common Good subtitled “Surviving an age of irresponsibility”; Polly Toynbee and David Walker's Dismembered. How the attack on the state harms us all - and  Yannis Varoufakis’s book, Adults in the Room in which he argues that “there was a dearth of adults in many of the rooms where this (Greek) drama unfolded.”

The TLS operates a paywall, but the review can be read in full after the usual manner!